January 1: "An Unearthly Child" / "The Cave of Skulls"

So here it is, the start of the new year and therefore the start of my Epic Doctor Who Viewing™.  It feels like it should be momentous somehow, the first step on a journey that will last well over a year: at least into April 2015 -- and that's if you don't include any spin-offery or things of that nature.  Yet in the end I simply pulled the DVD off the shelf, popped it in the player, and sat down to watch the first two episodes of Doctor Who: episodes 1 and 2 of An Unearthly Child (or 100,000 BC, if you prefer).  So much for pomp and circumstance.

Rewatching these episodes, it's striking just how good they are.  I'm having difficulty thinking of another series premiere that's as good -- the only thing that comes to mind is Futurama, which, it must be said, is in rather a different league.  "An Unearthly Child" has rightly been praised by others, but that praise is nevertheless well-deserved.  The script is intelligently written, drawing us skilfully from the every day of London 1963 into an impossible craft, with Ian voicing the audience's disbelief while the Doctor (somewhat snidely but perhaps not unjustly) tolerates his questions and skepticism -- but only so far.  But it's not just the script; everyone's doing their best, with marvelous acting and great direction -- the point-of-view shots of Susan as Ian and Barbara recall earlier events is really quite wonderful to behold.  Meanwhile, the sound design is fantastic, and I can only imagine what it must have been like to experience the title sequence for the first time, with its bizarre moving patterns and otherworldly music: it's really unlike anything else on television at the time.  An impressive 25 minutes.

Yet "The Cave of Skulls" is just as good.  They've decided to give the cavemen dialogue, which all the actors involved deliver with utter conviction; anything less and it wouldn't have worked, but here they get away with it with ease.  There also seem to be some sly parallels with modern society, particularly when Za stands on that central rock and makes, essentially, campaign promises, while pointing out that Kal will let them down.  It's very good. 

This episode is very much about the cavemen and is primarily concerned with setting them up.  This means that there's not as much time with the regular cast, but they get some good material anyway.  Particularly striking is the way in which the TARDIS being stuck as a police box is handled; this could have been very clunky, but instead it's given to the Doctor as almost a throwaway line, before Susan explains a little further.  And it's only the second episode ever of Doctor Who, and we've already gotten the "Doctor who?" joke (twice, even!).

Bring on the next two episodes!